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Defeat at Any Price

Why Petraeus's testimony was a nightmare for the Democrats.

Sep 24, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 02 • By DAVID GELERNTER
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To prepare for General David Petraeus's long-awaited testimony on Iraq to Congress last week, the liberal pressure group MoveOn.org wrote itself into the history books with an anti-Petraeus ad so repulsive it ranked with Lyndon Johnson's infamous 1964 TV spot in the campaign against Barry Goldwater: A little girl picking flowers dissolved into a mushroom cloud, and then the screen went black. (Evidently by voting for Goldwater, you expressed your support for nuclear holocaust.) But gleeful Republicans who are certain that MoveOn has finally tipped its hand and shown America what the left is all about should remember that Johnson won that election, in a landslide. Because MoveOn headlined its ugly ad with an ugly rhyme ("General Betray Us"), it will stick in the public mind. But it is just possible that the public will invite MoveOn to take their ad and ShoveIt.

Democrats at the hearings themselves found it impossible to look this capable, thoughtful, distinguished man in the face and endorse the MoveOn ad. But don't get them wrong: Leading Dems had dumped on Petraeus often in the past, and were dumping furiously in preparation for the hearings. Petraeus is guilty of "carefully manipulating the statistics," Senator Dick Durbin announced; in fact the general has "made a number of statements over the years that have not proven to be factual" (in strict contradistinction to Majority Leader Harry Reid), said Majority Leader Harry Reid. Barbara Boxer and Joe Biden plunged their knives in also.

The Democrats were scared for a reason. They worried that Petraeus would impress the country as dispassionate and serious--which he did. He called Bush's troop surge no unqualified success, said that much work remains--but that Iraq has turned a corner; has achieved tangible, important results in its fight against terrorism and inter-sect violence since the surge began. It was a Democratic nightmare.

America's ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, had the harder job of reporting on political progress. He said, too, that much work remained; Iraq's political health is bad in some ways, improving in others. But one fact towers above the rest like the ghost of the World Trade Center: If we stay put until the patient is stable, we face a tough job; if we panic and run, we face catastrophe.

Again this message was bad news for leading Democrats. But their reaction was just what it should've been, given that President Bush is the enemy--and, like the man said, politics ain't beanbag. Surely it's only natural for leading Democrats in Congress and the presidential campaign, and their vicious lap dogs on the web, to hope for the president's policies to fail.

Americans are so accustomed (or inured) to this attitude that they rarely step back and ask, What the hell is going on here?

The issue isn't tactics--doesn't concern the draw-down that the administration has forecast and General Petraeus has now discussed, or how this draw-down should work, or how specific such talk ought to be. The issue is deeper. It's time for Americans to ask some big questions. Do leading Democrats want America to win this war? Have they ever?

Of course not--and not because they are traitors. To leading Democrats such as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Al Gore and John Edwards, America would be better off if she lost. And this has been true from the start.

To rephrase the question: Why did Harry Reid announce months ago that the war was lost when it wasn't, and everyone knew it wasn't? The wish is father to the deed. He was envisioning the world of his dreams.

The Democrats' embrace of defeat is inspired by no base desire to see Americans killed or American resources wasted. But let's be honest about it, and invite the Democrats to be honest too.

Appeasement, pacifism, globalism: Those are the Big Three principles of the Democratic left. Each one has been defended by serious people; all are philosophically plausible, or at least arguable. But they are unpopular (especially the first two) with the U.S. public, and so the Democrats rarely make their views plain. We must infer their ideas from their (usually) guarded public statements.